By Paul Elam
Everyone knows that men have a tendency to protect women. But why do we see men, often so magnificently strong with other men or when facing danger, suddenly become shadows of themselves against the will of a woman? Indeed, why is it so rare that you ever see anyone even questioning this apparent paradox?
Is it nature? Is it social conditioning? Or is it something else that makes so many men Sampson, primed to be in the clutches of Delilah?
That is the subject of this series, the Real History of Men on An Ear for Men.
I have to take a moment to give a tip of the fedora to Peter Wright. Without his splendid knowledge of gynocentrism, history and philosophy, this series would not be possible. The message here is a product of his generously sharing that knowledge and pointing me to invaluable resources.
Now that I have offered proper credit, let’s start with the basic premise that all narratives hinge on a chronology. Each story, mythology or belief system contains a beginning, a history that defines the present, and a future goal or destination.
If you are religious in the Abrahamic sense, you have the moment of creation, the historical legends, and allegories that shape and define modern customs and beliefs, and the predictions of a future; a place in time where you or your people if you prefer, are going.
Buddhism, a non-religious philosophy, begins with enlightenment, historically shared by way of Dharma, or teachings, which set the individual free from life’s inherent negativity, taking them to a better place. Failure at the lessons, as we see in Hinduism as well as Buddhism, condemns the person to be reborn into life’s struggles until they get it right. But in getting it right, they have a destination in mind.
Even most atheists share the same basic psychological architecture as religious people. There is the big bang or some other theory of the beginning of the universe, long periods of formation and creation, including human evolution, and ultimately an end, or at the very least, a new beginning.
There are even narratives within narratives. The universe has one story, the earth has another, as it also has a beginning, middle and end. The USA is another example. The American Genesis was an exodus from England; its story was building the new world and a destination of freedom and opportunity. A kind of promised land. At least that is the internalized narrative of America for many in the world, even for some of those who hate it.
We are all, in one form or another, affected by this existential three-act play, and in that we have a natural inclination, a drive to script everything, from mythologies about national, state and local identity, to our laws and social customs. We create these archetypal stories and then emulate them, acting out uniquely human psychodramas in never ending cycles that shift with the changes in culture. If we are lucky in the midst of all this, we get to experience the belief that we know who and what we are.
In short, humans are story creatures. We need stories to orient ourselves in life. Those stories, the stories we unconsciously write about ourselves, and even stories that dwell in our unknown history, are always there, shaping what we think, feel and do.
For the purpose of this talk, I am going to apply this to the world of men, who are without a doubt in an ever increasing crisis of identity and confusion about their place in the world.
Depending on who you talk to, we have a pretty clear narrative of the human story, the story of mankind. There are certainly differences in what that story is from culture to culture and subculture to subculture, and no identified group will have near all the facts right, but anywhere you look there are people with a shared set of beliefs that form their core identity as human beings.
That certainty of identity starts to unravel when we replace the word human with the word man. While the story of mankind is, for the most part, uncomplicated, for men it is, especially in these times, muddled and rife with conflict.
It isn’t because the story of men is convoluted or overly complex. It is because our story has been erased and rewritten with a faulty mythology. The first two acts of our play have been gutted and revised to the point that act three, our collective future, has evaporated.
It’s impossible to underestimate the power of that internal narrative. Just as religious zealotry can foster wars and contagious hatred, other belief systems run amok can popularize bigotry and a host of other psychosocial maladies. To make myself clear that this is not a blanket condemnation of religion, and for the sake of honesty, I point out that atheists are no more exempt from this than anyone else, as history clearly demonstrates.
Right now the story of masculinity, and by that I mean the commonly internalized narrative, is as simple as it is toxic. In the beginning, there was the original sin of male dominance and power. The history that defines masculinity now is one of pernicious control and abuse, especially of women, that led to a coveted state of privilege, and the future is, must be, a prophetic destruction of privilege that does not exist and an end to masculinity as we once knew it.
It matters not that this is a false narrative, oblivious to reason and fact. It is still the prevailing narrative. The associated archetypes and mythologies formed in our minds and now permeate our consciousness. They already contain the power to shame and silence us with manufactured guilt. Those who see it and fight are few, but even in that fight, we acknowledge the presence and power of the narrative.
The masculine future is here. Hatred for men is institutionalized. Male suicide is surging, testosterone levels are plummeting, as is the presence of men in higher education and the workforce. Fathers are disappearing from the lives of their sons, resulting in gangs and prisons filling with men, and even more demonization.
And at the same time, male deference to women is at a staggering level, as is damseling by very powerful women who find no shortage of men of all stripes to fly on autopilot to their rescue. We are all but ignoring tumors in men to attend to hangnails in women.
In fact, I am here to argue that this deference to women, this insanely sacrificial servitude, is now an archetype of manhood. It is ingrained into what Plato called the anima mundi, the soul of the world, which now every man bears it like a cross.
The question here is how that lemming-like deference, that lack of self, was written into our story. I ventured into the shallow end of that pool in another article I wrote, titled Servant, Slave, and Scapegoat.
The short version of it is that our classic male archetypes — heroes, kings, warriors and the like — have been twisted and deformed by gender ideology.
You might think that the ideology came from gender feminism, whether the current third wave carnival or the second wave of the late 1960’s or even the first wave of the mid-1800’s but all those are comparatively minor events in this story. Act one of this three-part play has its beginning over 900 years ago in the mid 12th century.
Eleanor of Aquitaine was a remarkably wealthy and powerful woman. At different points of her life, she was the queen of both England and France. She was also a temperamental, rebellious woman by historical accounts. All indications are that she was a woman who lived in constant dissatisfaction with her lot in life.
In many ways, her life and that of her daughter Marie mirrored more modern feminists like Betty Friedan. They were women of serious means, bequeathed to them by men. They were women who used their privilege, free time and resources practice sexual politics.
Eleanor and Marie dedicated themselves fervently to promoting the standard of courtly love. They commissioned traveling troubadours to spread a redefinition of love and attachment according to the courtly standard. And, understand this, that story, that narrative, still dictates much of our lives today.
So what exactly is courtly love? The late Joseph Campbell, a highly regarded mythologist, writer, and lecturer shared his ideas on it after years of research.
One of the stories commissioned by Marie, who also dictated the details, was that of Lancelot and Guinevere. At its core, it was a story of glorified adultery and betrayal. It was a message that courtly love was exalted notion of love and rose above the moral standards of the times, even above the power and importance of a king.
And so went the theme of all courtly love. The way knights, and ultimately all men fit in this story, was in blind service and dedication to women, abandoning themselves and their values for the privilege of being a vassal.
As we can see in this next segment by Campbell, blind obedience to that narrative is not quite as romantic as it sounds.
I’m not saying that Eleanor of Aquitaine invented Courtly Love or Romantic Chivalry. Some scholars have reasonably concluded that the trend was making small waves in multiple cultures at the time. Myths like Helen of Troy and Sampson and Delilah far predated Eleanor and Marie. Our legends were already replete with cautionary tales about the devastation wrought from male surrender to the pull of infatuation.
Eleanor’s work to change the healthy narrative, an expression of her lust for personal power, is the genesis of our story. And its’ history is well documented. The message started with nobility and spread to all the principal courts of Europe. From there it disseminated to the masses and has been a powerful and destructive part of men’s story ever since.
Looking back, Act One of this story is the first ever historical example of a social movement designed to manipulate the biological tendency toward gynocentrism, and to coerce men into a role of enhanced servitude to women. It was wildly successful, and it has affected human beings as much or more than religion and technology. Certainly more than psychology, which was emerging as a discipline about the same time as courtly love.
And as many know, there has been a deep and painful cost to men for it.
That’s worth thinking about.